Obama’s National Security Advisor Delivers Myth-Addled Speech on Waging War on Syria
National security advisor Susan E. Rice was sent by the administration of President Barack Obama to deliver a speech making the case for war on Syria at the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington, DC.
The speech was part of a public relations operation engineered by former Obama administration staffers the president has consulted to help sell the American people, who are opposed to striking Syria, on the idea that it is necessary to strike in Syria. The operation has also included 13 videos authenticated by the CIA, posted to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s website and shown on CNN and various news programs. And, on Sunday, the administration had Chief of Staff Denis McDonough appear on five Sunday morning news programs ahead of a planned address by the president on Tuesday evening.
Rice’s speech came on the same day as news broke of a Pew Research Center poll indicating that American opposition to striking Syria has surged. It contained many myths the administration has been propagating—and apparently intends to continue propagating—in order to keep pressing its public relations offensive for war.
1. Administration continues to use inflated casualty number, 1429.
Doctors Without Borders has reported that 355 reportedly died from the August 21 chemical attack. The group also reported that “3,600 patients displaying neurotoxic symptoms over a period of “less than three hours” on the morning” of August 21.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights “confirmed 502 dead, including about 100 children and ‘tens’ of rebel fighters,” according to McClatchy. That is still far less than 1429. The organization demanded Secretary of State John Kerry “provide the names of the victims included in the US tally.”
2. “There is no doubt about who is responsible for the attack.”
As the Associated Press reported on September 8, the American public has “yet to see a single piece of concrete evidence—no satellite imagery, no transcripts of Syrian military communications—connecting the government of President Bashar Assad to the alleged chemical weapons attack last month that killed hundreds of people.”
A German newspaper also recently reported, according to German intelligence, “Syrian brigade and division commanders had been asking the Presidential Palace to allow them to use chemical weapons for the last four-and-a-half months.” However, “Permission had always been denied,” which raises questions about whether the August 21 attack was ordered by Assad or committed by rogue commanders.
The Hindu, a newspaper based in India, reported in January of this year that the Syrian opposition “has claimed it can counter the government’s chemical arsenal by assembling its own stocks of chemical weapons.” Bassam al-Dada, a Free Syrian Army (FSA) adviser, apparently told Turkey’s state-run Anatolia news agency “the opposition has the raw materials and know-how to produce chemical weapons.” Al-Dada “warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad not to threaten the opposition with chemical weapons as ‘we also possess them.” But Al-Dada said chemical weapons would not be used unless the Syrian government used chemical weapons to attack the opposition.
4. “Every time chemical weapons are moved, unloaded, and used on the battlefield, it raises the likelihood that these weapons will fall into the hands of terrorists active in Syria…”
While this is certainly a valid concern, it masks a reality, which is that members of Congress do not even know if strikes would risk the spread of chemicals and more deaths. (See 67 questions the Congressional Progressive Caucus sent to the Obama administration to have answered.)
5. ”This would not be the United States launching another ‘war.’”
Not even host of “Face of the Nation,” Bob Schieffer, who voiced his support for striking Syria on September 8, endorses this newspeak. He said to guests, “You cannot say what Secretary of State Kerry said — and I say this with respect — that this is not an act of war. I mean, if the Chinese parked a submarine off Manhattan Island and decided to dump a couple of cruise missiles into there, I think we`d consider that an act of war.” Yet, the Obama administration continues to try and suggest they are not trying to start a “war.”
Kerry said, “I don’t believe that we’re going to war. I just don’t believe that.” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little refused to address the question on September 5, “If another country launched cruise missiles against the United States, would you consider that an act of war?”
Obviously, the administration doesn’t want to call it a war because the America people oppose starting another war. Not using the word, however, hasn’t helped the administration win support.
6. “There will be no American boots on the ground—period.”
Probably not true. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has reported if military force was used, “During conflict, the intelligence community and Special Forces units would likely play a major role in locating and securing such weapons in a combat environment. The nature and recent course of the conflict in Syria suggests that rapid changes in control over critical military facilities may occur.” So, while it is understood the Obama administration cannot officially acknowledge there would be “boots on the ground,” some Americans’ boots are likely to be on Syrian soil.
7. “What the President is proposing is fundamentally different. Unlike Iraq, we are not betting on the existence of weapons of mass destruction.”
Rice stated, “In Syria, we have the undeniable proof that chemical weapons have already been unleashed with horrific results. The entire world can see the bodies.” Aside from the fact that, as noted above, “undeniable proof” hasn’t been shared with the American people yet, this statement represents a quite a strawman argument because no one has suggested it would be similar to the Iraq War because the administration is lying about WMDs. The public is opposed because it does not think the president is being forthright about how involved the US will be in the Syrian civil war and the commitments the country might make that could extend the conflict.
8. “There aren’t many non-partisan issues left in Washington. This is one—or at least it should be.”
Hard to argue with Rice. There has always been non-partisan support for making war in Washington. She noted that House and Senate leaders support war, “foreign policy experts” (like the ones who hosted her speech) support war, and others from “both sides of the political aisle” support war. Yet, this obscures the fact that opposition to the war among the American people is non-partisan.
Republicans, according to the recent Pew Research Center poll, oppose strikes by “an overwhelming 70% to 21% margin, with 51% saying they are strongly opposed.” But that doesn’t mean the antiwar sentiment is purely partisan. “Opposition has grown among independents as well, with two-thirds (66%) now opposed, up from half (50%) last weekend.” And, surprisingly, despite the fact that the president is a Democrat, 53% of Democrats continue to oppose military airstrikes.
Most importantly, there is non-partisan opposition to authorizing the use of force in the House of Representatives that may be insurmountable for the administration. One hundred and fifteen representatives are currently “firm nays” and one hundred and thirty-three representatives “lean nay.”
9. “America’s ability to rally coalitions and lead internationally could be undermined.” – if the US doesn’t strike Syria
At this stage, it is beginning to seem far more likely that this would be the case if the US launched strikes on Syria. The administration argues the statement by G20 countries condemning Assad’s regime constitutes implicit support for military action but the statement does not explicitly call for military action in response to the apparent chemical attack.
McDonough, when pressed on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Candy Crowley, could not give any examples of any countries willing to provide military assistance or support if the US were to launch strikes.
10. “The Arab League foreign ministers have called for ‘deterrent and necessary measures.’”
None have publicly called for the US to take military action. Only Saudi Arabia, despite the efforts of Kerry, has been willing to recommend military force be used.
11. “The Organization of Islamic Cooperation has said the regime’s attack ‘requires a decisive action.’”
That “decisive action” urged was not US military strikes. It was a call for action by the United Nations Security Council. It was a call to “hold the Syrian government legally and morally accountable for this heinous crime and to bring its perpetrators to justice.”
The speech also featured the typical jingoism or advocacy for warlike foreign policy that one would expect in a speech designed to sell war.
Rice declared, “Rejecting the limited military action that President Obama strongly supports would raise questions around the world as to whether the United States is truly prepared to employ the full range of its power to defend our national interests.”
“We do not assess that limited military strikes will unleash a spiral of unintended, escalatory reactions in the region. Assad and his allies would be more than foolish to take on the forces of the United States or our allies,” she proudly stated. “They know that President Obama, throughout his presidency, has amply demonstrated he will not hesitate to defend our nation, our citizens, and our allies against direct threats to our security.”
There was also exploitation of the images of innocent civilians sprawled out and squirming around as they were feeling the effects of the attack on August 21.
“We’ve been shocked by the videos from Ghouta and other neighborhoods near Damascus. As a parent, I cannot look at those pictures—those little children laying on the ground, their eyes glassy, their bodies twitching—and not think of my own two kids. I can only imagine the agony of those parents in Damascus,” Rice said.
Later in her speech, Rice concluded:
Every adult American, every Member of Congress, should watch those videos for themselves. See that suffering. Look at the eyes of those men and women, those babies—and dare to turn away and forsake them. Watch those videos, and imagine the months and years ahead where an emboldened Assad and those who follow his example carry out more attacks, forcing us to witness more and more such depravity. I believe you will come to the same conclusion as the President and so many countries around the world: that this cannot stand. Not in the 21st century. Not given the values and principles that we as Americans hold dear. As the one indispensable leader in the world, the United States of America can and must take action—carefully, responsibly, purposefully—to reduce the chances of such an outrage happening again.
Perhaps, the only thing missing from this statement was a suggestion that we should not wait for the next civilian victims to be engulfed in a mushroom cloud.
The impetus of Rice’s statement, of course, is that any “adult American” who opposes striking Syria is indifferent and lacks compassion for the humans attacked by Assad’s regime. But one could say not striking is actually more compassionate. That decision recognizes it is impossible to know what dangerous or foolish outcomes could occur if targets are bombed because, at the moment, the public does not know if it would bring about additional horror that would be as ghastly to watch as the videos of the victims hit on August 21.
It is the arrogance of American power that the Obama administration has not only pressed for war but sinisterly mounted a public relations offensive aimed at intimidating and manipulating the population into supporting its agenda. That arrogance is further compounded by the fact that what the administration is advocating for is a humanitarian bombing campaign, which it accepts will probably be in violation of the law.
Not a word is said about the nonviolent opposition’s concerns about US military strikes. As the founder of Building the Syrian State Current, a nonviolent opposition group in Syria, recently argued, according to journalist Rania Khalek, “A US military strike will exacerbate the bloodshed, emboldening more extreme elements of the armed rebellions and hampering the civil society resistance she sees as the vital foundation of a future democratic Syria.
“This is not a regime that you can remove with military confrontation from the air without killing millions,” she declared. “We want to force the regime through a political solution to start sharing power to put the country on the path to democracy.”
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